Karl and his guild of fuelers had a good week. They had refined fuel stuffed in every cubic meter of their gaggle of Starfarers, Caterpillars, and even the odd Connie whose owners retrofitted them for fueling instead of fighting. Now they just needed to know where to go.
Each ship in their group was arrayed around incoming jump points in the Osiris system. They all had scanners and guns hot, looking for one thing – the next pigeon drone to pop through the jump point.
“Detecting activity, Karl,” said Melissa. “Spooling up the turrets.” With a flash and a small distortion wave, a pigeon drone winked into existence. “Receiving… and firing,” Melissa said calmly. The turret on her Starfarer flared briefly and the pigeon drone ceased to exist.
“Another plea for fuel… and the price just doubled again,” Melissa informed Karl, not bothering to hide the excitement in her voice. Karl smiled, knowing his guild’s tactic of intercepting pigeon drones was interrupting the flow of economic information into Osiris. There were lots of other crews mining the gas giant here, but they had no idea about the fuel shortage and spiking prices. Karl’s destruction of the pigeon drones intended to relay commercial news between systems had seen to that…
If you read the tables in the inaugural Star Citizen Economy CommLink and watched Chris Roberts’ video, you should’ve caught two things. In Table 1.0 “Node Types”, there was the mention of pigeon drones. Starting at 0:50 in the video, you saw how commerce requests generated in one system slowly and sequentially propagate through adjacent systems.
Solar systems cannot communicate with each other instantly since there is no FTL communications capability in the Star Citizen universe. To share communications between systems, “pigeon drones” are used. Think of them like carrier pigeons – tasked with transporting information between two systems. The pigeon drone is loaded with news and economic information, then sent through a jump point. It arrives in the next system and flashes the loaded data to that system’s network of communications satellites. In this way, economic data are propagated sequentially system-to-system.
In any economy, the person who gets information first has the first chance to profit. That chance of profit goes up exponentially if the person receiving the information first can then control the dissemination of that information – slowing or even redirecting it. In the dynamic Star Citizen economy, repeated unanswered requests for commerce result in a state of increased demand. Increased demand usually generates higher prices – which in Karl’s case means he can get more money than normal for his guild’s refined fuel since he’s co-opting the economic information entering Osiris.
Karl’s fuel isn’t any better than others who mine the Osiris gas giant. His only competitive advantage is he’s been depriving other denizens of Osiris of information about fuel orders. Because he’s been intercepting those pigeon drones for a while, those doing the ordering are getting a little desperate and are hiking their prices to attract deliveries. The longer Karl is able to keep suppressing the information, the higher those prices will go.
What isn’t in the fiction is the fact Karl would have to coordinate with others outside the Osiris system. To truly starve others of advertised commerce requests, all pigeon drones exiting the requesting system would have to be suppressed – not just those inbound to Osiris.
I wrote this not to provide a no-miss manual on how controlling information can lead to higher profits. I wrote it to highlight one interesting aspect of system-limited exchanges and CIG’s decision to not use instant communications across the universe. I hear a lot of guilds talking about how they are going to blockade systems to increase their profits. Frankly, that’s not necessary. All they need to do is trash a system’s outbound pigeon drones and they can accomplish much the same thing without the same risk to their ships.
You want to have lots of fun? Grab some mates and load your holds with pigeon drones. Find some system without any ability to produce pigeon drones of their own – and destroy any outbound pigeon drones. Watch the prices for them skyrocket, and profit accordingly.
Of course, the authorities in that system are likely to notice and the local militia or local bounty hunters are likely to be tasked to do something about that – so you’d better pack some firepower to protect that cargo of yours. Such is the multi-arrayed feedback loop described in the inaugural CommLink.
Welcome to the dizzying array of economic strategy and counter strategy envisioned for Star Citizen’s dynamic economy.